At this point, it’s like sun protection 101: There are two different types of sunscreen to choose from, chemical and physical sunscreens. And while they both protect skin from UV light, which contributes to skin cancer, sunburns, and signs of accelerated skin aging (think wrinkles and dark spots), they do so in their own unique ways.
That’s where your personal preferences come in. Because you’re wearing it every day, it’s worth doing a little homework to make sure you’re using a sunscreen that you’re — dare we say it — excited to slather on. Here’s your primer on how the two work, and which might be the better option for your skin type and concerns.
Chemical and physical sunscreens have their own methods of defending skin from UV rays. “Chemical sunscreens work by neutralizing the damaging UV as they hit the skin,” explains Rachel Nazarian, dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in NYC. They employ ingredients such as avobenzone and oxybenzone, which sink into skin and absorb the sun’s rays so your skin doesn’t have to.
Physical sunscreens, also known as “mineral” or “natural” sunscreens, remain on the surface of your skin, where they act like a shield against UV rays and deflect them away from your skin. “There are two major ingredients, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide,” Nazarian says.
Both chemical and physical formulas are perfectly safe to use, says Nazarian, but your best option has to do with your skin type and what you need. Physical sunscreens, for instance, are ideal for anyone with sensitive skin. “Sensitive skin-types may experience irritation, such as slight tingling, itching, or redness, after using chemical blockers,” she explains. “Very few people have irritation when using the physical blockers.”
The downside of physical sunscreens is that they form a physical layer on top of skin — which means they can be harder to blend in, especially if your skin tone is on the darker side. Still, the latest versions now use smaller particles, so they no longer leave those telltale chalky streaks. And if you’re dedicated to a clean beauty regimen, a physical sunscreen will fit right in.
Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, tend to be more high-tech. “The chemical sunscreens tend to be more lightweight and are cosmetically very elegant,” says Nazarian. Because skin actually absorbs them, they feel weightless and are less likely to wick off or drip into your eyes if you’re, say, sweating on an outdoor run. They’re also better for those who wear makeup, as they won’t cause your foundation to spread unevenly or slide off. If your skin doesn’t usually react to chemical ingredients, this is your best bet.
A little-known fact about sunscreens is that they are actually made more effective by antioxidants like vitamin C and E. The sun’s UV rays cause free radical activity (i.e. unstable molecules that can cause premature skin aging) in skin and antioxidants are crucial to fighting them. By pairing your SPF with an antioxidant powerhouse like our new Pineapple-C Bright Serum (which features THREE different types of vitamin C), you boost the power of your sun protection and help fight existing hyperpigmentation in the process. It’s a win-win! Just remember that vitamin C on its own is not a replacement for daily SPF — antioxidants aren’t effective at protecting against those skin-burning, cancer-causing rays.
Once you have an idea of the type of sunscreen that’ll work best for you, test it out. “Try multiple brands, products, and forms of sunscreen to see which works best with your skin,” says Nazarian. “See how it feels, applies, [and] smells. Make sure you truly like the way it looks and feels on your skin.” If you love it, you’ll be more motivated to wear it — which will benefit your complexion even more in the long run.
We take sun protection seriously, so we’ve tried a LOT of SPF in our quest for the holy grail sunscreen. And bottle after bottle, smear after smear, nothing has stacked up quite like Make P:rem’s Blue Ray Sun Gel. It stands out from the pack because it not only protects your skin from both UVA and UVB rays, but it also counteracts the damage from hot infrared waves (which have been shown to contribute to hyperpigmentation) by physically cooling the skin. Which, coincidentally, also makes it feel really amazing to reapply on a sweltering summer day. Take this lightweight, milky skin savior with you wherever you go to keep your complexion cool and safe in the sun.
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